Accountability is a big word and it comes with big expectations!
Very often when we set goals or targets we do so in the knowledge that they are something to aim for … not necessarily something that we must achieve. For example we might say that we would like to lose 10lb in the next 2 months, but if we actually only lose 8lb then we don’t feel too bad, its not the end of the world. It wasn’t a “must do” goal.
However it is very normal for companies to set budgets for their managers and their sales teams which they are expected to meet. When those teams fail to meet their goals they are deemed to have failed. That is because there is an expectation they will deliver.
The difference between the two scenarios can highlight the difference between accountability and “best effort”.
I’m returning to Vietnam later this month-for the first time in 41 years. Hence my mind drifts occasionally to the 4-decade-old events that marked the beginning of my professional career.
One rather strange occurrence crossed my mind while driving home to VT from Boston last week.
I was out in the field, deep in the jungle, in fact, building a camp for a U.S. Army Special Forces team. I was choppered back to Danang in a rush for a brief meeting with the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, General Leonard Chapman, who was paying a visit to I Corps, the northern part of South Vietnam, which was under USMC command-more specifically under the command of General Lew Walt.
What the hell was a LTJG (very junior officer) doing visiting with a 4-star general? Simple. My uncle, General H.W. Buse, was USMC Chief of Staff back in D.C., and my aunt had insisted that General Chapman see me in the flesh.
When I got back from the field, covered with mud (it was rainy season), I was sent directly to the Commandant with no time to change into a respectable uniform-a great embarrassment. General Chapman engaged in all of about 15 seconds of chitchat, and having done his duty to my aunt, sent me on my way. As I was literally walking out of his temporary field office, he summoned me back, and said, out of the blue, “Tom, are you taking care of your men?” (I had a little detachment, about 20 guys as I recall, doing the work described before.)
Yup, 40 years plus later, I remember his exact words-which is the point of this Post. I replied to the General, “I’m doing my best, sir.” To this day, with a chill going up my spine, I can see his face darken, and his voice harden, “Mr Peters, General Walt and I and General Buse are not interested in whether or not you are ‘doing your best.’ We simply expect you to get the job done-and to take care of your sailors. Period. That will be all, Lieutenant.”
The line echoes to this day-as you can tell. You are there to “get the job done”-not just-merely “do your best.” I recall many years later seeing a Churchill quote that was much the same; more or less this: “It is not enough to do your best or try as hard as you can-you must succeed in doing what is necessary.”
And so the lesson sticks. I’ll conclude with a simple “thank you” to the late General Chapman. I think I can say with some certainty that the story of my life would not have unfolded as it has, had the General not made his views on success and failure so succinct and so crystal clear.
In a nutshell that is what it means to be accountable. To take responsibility for making something happen, or meeting some goal … and doing what it takes to achieve it, without excuses.
This is a hard lesson for people, because we can all always find excuses for not meeting our goals. In fact I have met many sales people in particular who are probably more skilled at the art of excuse making than they will ever be in actually selling!
Tom finished his blog entry by thanking the general for changing his life with that insight … because without a doubt … PEOPLE WHO ARE ACCOUNTABLE WILL BE SUCCESSFUL!